Odin’s Path: Connection

I read somewhere that Odin’s wisdom is found in the ability to make plans that are successful – in other words, his wisdom is found in strategy. I don’t dispute this, as he is a war god and therefore needs the ability to think strategically, but I don’t think it fully captures his wisdom (and I’m not sure it’s possible to do so).

Strategy and making plans – those are both very important skills, but I think there’s more to wisdom than that. To make good plans, you have to understand people at a very deep level, and to understand other people requires a lot of patience and the ability to listen. It also requires the ability to trust in a person’s own experience of the world without feeling the need to negate it based on the experiences you’ve had yourself.

In my experience, understanding another person necessitates the suspension of disbelief. Each person we meet, no matter how crazy or far-fetched the story may sound to us, has their own story to tell, and we all believe in our own stories. They are, after all, what we are comprised of. They are the world we are made of – our stories define us in a way nothing else can.

To deny another person their story is to deny them their identity – it isn’t simply a case of whether or not we believe that the story that they tell us is a true one. That’s where understanding gets lost. People are worlds in themselves, and each world has its own unique set of rules. What those rules are vary from world to world, from person to person, and there is nothing more wrong or right about any particular set of rules that govern these worlds, these people.

This is the type of thinking that shamans must master in order to find the connections that link worlds, that link people, together. It is in these connections that we find the commonalities, the threads that tie us to one another and to the gods. If someone asked me for a definition of shaman, I don’t know if I would have had a proper answer even a year ago – it took me awhile to realize that the work I’ve always done as an empath has always been the work of a shaman. In some ways, they are the same, as the shamanism I practice is inherently empathic in nature (this is, of course, not true of all shamans nor is it true of all empaths).

Now, I would define my shamanism as the empathy required to forge links between worlds – knowing as I do now that every person is their own world. What people don’t understand – or at least don’t like to believe – is that I connect with gods as easily as I do people, and I have ever since I started to comprehend them as having agency in their own right, as having their own type of personhood. The links between gods and humans are a little bit different, a little more slippery, but they do exist – they always have.

It is because of these links that I tell people, when they ask me which deities they should try to work with (and believe me, I get this question quite often), that the deities they need to look towards first are those that most resemble them in personality. Not the deities they admire the most or the ones they think will be most beneficial – the deities with personalities that echo the personalities of the humans who ask me this question.

Because those are the deities that we can connect with most easily – those threads are most accessible to us. Odin is my patron, I am sworn to his path, and yet he is not a deity I converse with easily. Nor is he a deity whom I consult often – the relationship I have with Odin is a very complex one, and it is in the complexity of his personality and the complexity of my own that we meet. It is not a relationship I could ever hope to properly explain to someone else, but I trust in the relationship we share despite the oddness of its shape.

Loki is also my patron, and I am one of his priests. Unlike Odin, however, I converse easily with Loki. Among the gods I work with, he is one of my best friends. On the surface, he can seem irresponsible and whimsical, but there is a depth of emotional maturity to him that most don’t see in him because they don’t look past the surface. I understand on a very real level what it is like to be seen by others without truly being seen by them, and it is on this understanding that the link between me and Loki is founded.

I honor and work with many other deities, and all of those relationships are founded on different commonalities, different threads that link the world of who I am to the world of that particular deity. With Tyr, it is the understanding of stepping forward into responsibility when no one else will. With Freyja, it is the understanding that female and weak aren’t equal terms, that there is a depth of strength in femininity that is vastly different than the strength found in masculinity. With Sigyn, it is the understanding of the depth of love a person must feel for another to stand loyally by them despite the pain they endure. With Mani, it is a depth of compassion. With Ullr, it is a love of competition. With Freyr, it is an understanding of what nobility truly means. With Bragi, it is a love of words.

With all the gods – with all humans as well – there are links of understanding. It is upon those links that relationships may be best forged. Think about the friends you cherish – what first made you friends? What link of understanding does that friendship center around? And how many of your friends are your friends for the same reason? Because I know the relationships I share with my friends are defined very differently from person to person, from god to god. No relationship is the same as another – for good reason, as that would teach us nothing and also be incredibly boring.

I started writing this because I wanted to talk about how Odin’s wisdom encompasses so much more than simply the ability to make plans – he is the penultimate shaman. He sacrificed his eye to gain wisdom, and he sacrificed himself to gain the knowledge of the runes. His path is a path of sacrifice, and one of the biggest sacrifices I’ve found myself making is setting aside my own sight to pick up the sight of another.

That means suspending disbelief, keeping your own prejudices and default biases under wraps as you listen to the stories of the people around you. I have heard stories that most would view as beyond the realm of belief because I have taken the time to set aside my doubts and trust that a person’s story, when they tell it to me, is true enough for them.

Favor of the Gods and/or Divine Entitlement

I read a Facebook post today – which, to be fair, is almost always enough to make a person question their sanity, considering how much sheer stupidity is displayed on Facebook every day. Just today, I’ve read about people who pretend to be incarnations of deities, people who claim to channel deities to advance their own agendas, and, of course, the comment that has led me to write this post.

(Note: For ethical reasons, I’m not providing the name of the group or the names of the members who made these comments).

In one of the Facebook groups I’m part of, someone mentioned how he was walking home when it started hailing, and he decided to go to a shop that was past his house. As he started towards the shop, however, 3-4 bolts of lightning laced through the sky and thunder roared overhead. This continued for a solid minute before he decided to turn around, and thirty seconds after he decided to turn around, the hailing stopped completely. He said it made him feel like Thor was watching over him, like Thor had struck his hammer as hard as he could to get the guy to turn back from the shop.

Now, this story? This is amazing, and I have no problems with stories like this. In fact, it is very possible that Thor has taken an interest in this guy and was warning him about the storm. Sometimes, when the gods try to get our attention, they yell – and sometimes we listen, and we reap the benefits from paying attention.

In the comments was where I found the problem. One guy said: “If one believes that metaphysical forces and beings have a particular and personal interest in one’s welfare and fortunes, it can lead to narcissism and a tendency towards magical thinking and ‘divine entitlement.’ The Aesir, from my study of the texts, don’t operate that way. They don’t give gifts and personal protection. They provide examples for us to follow.”

There are so many things wrong with this comment that it’s hard to know where to start. The whole “but the books don’t say that” mentality – well, that smacks of monotheistic thinking that hasn’t been shaken. The gods can’t be confined to the books they are found within – the description of a god is a description, not the god in full.

And the whole thing about the gods not giving gifts and personal protection? Uh, I think this person may want to take another look at the lore – the gods gave humans the first gifts. For someone who is sticking to the lore, he sure missed the part where Odin and co. gave humans “soul, sense, and heat/goodly hue” according to the Bellows translation of the Poetic Edda. There are stories within the Sagas about gods who grant personal protection to particular people – so this person contradicts himself by first mentioning the texts and then stating the gods don’t do something they can be seen to be doing throughout the lore.

He salvages a little bit when he says “They [the gods] provide examples for us to follow” because that stands on its own. Our gods don’t give us edicts, but we honor them the best when we mimic them. Mimicry is truly the highest form of flattery, so acting as we believe the gods would act in certain situations can help us figure ways out of situations – it allows us to retain our independence from the gods, which is an irony that bears further consideration.

However, the other thing that this guy said is also not quite wrong – believing in the personal protection of metaphysical forces and gods can lend itself to narcissism, and, in extreme cases, what he calls ‘divine entitlement.’ I touched on this concept a bit, in my post about action and gratitude. The gods can be our friends, they can be close companions, and they can be our benefactors. But they are never beholden to us. We make offerings so that they may grant us their favor in return – may does not imply must.

Entitlement is entitlement, whether there is a human on the other end of your expectations or a god. For the most part, we all possess (gods and humans alike) agency and autonomy. Because autonomy plays a role in every agreement we make (gods and humans both), there is no external force applied to ensure that every agreement is kept in truth. If a friend asks me to help him clear out his garage and I agree to do so, I can decide that it is no longer in my best interest to help him clear out his garage and back out of the agreement. This might make him angry, and it might impact our relationship to some degree, but he is not entitled to my help. No one is entitled to another person’s autonomy, and, as I mentioned recently, the gods are a people of their own – we aren’t entitled to their help, either.

But we’ve all met those people who tend to assume that the first time you help them means that you’ll always be available to help them, and pretty soon, the only time that person is contacting you is when they need something from you. None of us likes this – we hate being treated like tools, and it makes us feel like we’re being taken advantage of. I can’t imagine that the gods feel much different when the only time someone calls on them is to help them with a problem. That’d annoy all of us – why do people think it wouldn’t annoy the gods?

In some ways, then, the comment actually has some good advice – it’s just been twisted in a way that makes it hard to glean that advice. The gods do offer friendship, personal protection, and gifts to humans – when those humans are respectful and treat the relationships like relationships and treat the gods like they are more than just a tool for human convenience. Relationships aren’t built out of a sense of the way you can use the other person, but out of a sense of mutual trust and respect. If you’re using a god…well, I’m just going to err on the side of caution here and say the outcome will probably end in the god’s favor.

Approaching Deity

The Gods have personhood – by which I mean they have agency of their own. They are people in their own right. We often mistake the word people as being synonymous with human, as humanity is the only race on this planet that has been ascribed a level of personhood.

The Gods are of a different race than us, and they don’t normally reside in this world – though I’m sure there are a few who choose to live among us. Because the Gods don’t typically reside here, it is easy to see how people may form the impression that personhood implies being human.

Personhood, however, simply implies having agency. It implies having a mind of one’s own, and thus implies the ability to make one’s own decisions – autonomy is guaranteed. With this in mind, it becomes easier to see that the Gods are people, too. They are a different race of people, to be sure, but they are people.

That is what makes it so important that we don’t approach the Gods using the God Faucet or thinking of the Gods as the Great Vending Machine in the Sky (See Sources). These are two ways of approaching the Gods that have become commonplace, especially among those who are new to Paganism.

The God Faucet is essentially saying, “I need a god that rules x domain, so I will arbitrarily pick a name from a hat and approach that god.” The reason that this is problematic, when dealing with the Gods, is that it ignores the personhood of the Gods. We don’t approach other humans this way – why are there Pagans who believe it’s okay to approach Gods in this way? The Gods are greater than us by their very nature, yet there are Pagans who approach the Gods almost as if they are made for the convenience of humanity. Perhaps it is because we live in such a convenience-based society, as there seem to be among us those who have forgotten that everyone deserves to be treated with respect. Everyone includes the Gods.

To put this in perspective, imagine that you have just gone shopping and are carrying several bags of heavy items, and you have to walk a mile back to your apartment. Let’s pretend you just moved in, so everyone you walk by by to get back to your apartment is a stranger. No one offers to help you, but you don’t expect help from those you don’t know. You certainly don’t turn to one of the strangers you walk by and ask them to help you  – you already understand there is no reason for them to help you, so you don’t ask to begin with.

Now, the next day, you’re walking down the same street, but this time, your hands are empty. You’re simply exploring. You get ready to go into a particular shop when you catch sight of someone staring into the window with a wistful expression, and you decide to strike up a conversation. The two of you start talking, find out you have a lot in common, trade names – maybe numbers – and maybe even make arrangements to hang out in the future. You’ve established a relationship.

The next time you go shopping, you happen to run into each other and start talking. However, this time, you have an established relationship. Perhaps help is offered or asked for, and help is received or denied based on the circumstances of everyone involved in the situation.

This is the way relationships between all people are formed, whether the relationship in question is between two humans, two Gods, a human and a God, two spirits, a human and a spirit, or between a spirit and a God. All relationships require an origin. Even if the only relationship you want with a God is that of patron-client, patrons are often far more willing to help those clients who make an effort to understand the patron than they are those clients who expect everything to go their way.

The God Faucet is picking out a deity and saying, “Hey, do this thing for me even though I have no pre-established relationship.” The Vending Machine works in a similar vein, although it takes it a step further by insisting that the Gods are only around for human convenience. “If I make an offering, then you have to do this for me.”

That’s not the primary purpose of offerings. The primary reason we give offerings to the Gods is so that They may give in return. May does not imply must. We offer prayer, libations, and ritual – among other things – to the Gods in order to celebrate the relationships we share with the Gods. They are the way that we hang out with deity, the same way we go to restaurants, movies, and other venues to hang out with friends. To know the Gods, you must treat them as if they are people in their own right. Not convenient shop-owners who can provide you with what you want when you give them the right coin.

Alongside being asked by newer Pagans how to know that the Gods are communicating, I also often get asked how to approach deity. The question has a simple answer, yet people seem to dislike the answer. If you want to know deity, you have to approach the Gods the way they want to be approached. They converse with us through the means they have told us to use, means that we have known about for centuries. Pray. Offer libations. Participate in ritual. If you want to know the Gods, get to know the Gods through the means they have provided for us to get to know them. If doing so makes you uncomfortable, either get over it or get used to not knowing deity.

This is one area where there’s no real alternative, though there are multiple ways that we can approach the offerings we give to the Gods. But to know deity, we have to make an effort. All human relationships take effort. Why should relationships with the Gods be any different?

 

Sources 

Kin’ani. http://tessdawson.blogspot.com/2013/06/the-god-faucet.html  Explains the idea of the God Faucet.

Kirk Thomas. “Sacred Gifts: Reciprocity and the Gods.” In one of the later chapters in the books, the idea of the Great Vending Machine in the Sky is addressed.

Defining Polytheism

 

Polytheism is, at its core, the belief in and worship of multiple deities. The word “polytheist” comes from the Greek poly, meaning “many,” and the Greek theos, meaning “god.” Essentially, the word “polytheist” can be understood to mean “many gods.” Polytheism can be difficult to explain to others due to the multiplicity inherent in its practice. Because of that, the first thing to be aware of about polytheists is that no two polytheists believe in the exact same gods or explore their faith in the exact same way. That is where the difficulty of explaining polytheism originates.

While it may be easy for a monotheist to explain to others that they believe in a single unifying supreme deity, that ease comes from the fact that a monotheist’s belief is singular in nature. Monotheism includes all of the Abrahamic faiths – Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. While there are other monotheistic faiths, the Abrahamic faiths are the most well-known and the most wide-spread.

Because of the prevalence of monotheistic faiths, it is not a surprise that polytheism is rarely encountered and that people living in monotheistic cultures lack the ability to truly comprehend the various types of belief systems found within polytheistic religions. The reason for that lack of comprehension stems from the inability to understand that there is no unifying practice that ties all polytheists together. A monotheist who encounters another monotheist – a Christian meeting a Muslim, for example – can exchange their understanding of the singular deity they share and acknowledge that, while the names they use are different, the faiths are remarkably similar in execution.

In contrast, a monotheist who encounters a polytheist can’t exchange spiritual knowledge of that nature, due to the contradiction inherent in the belief in one god versus the belief in many. This encounter doesn’t provide two opposing viewpoints – no, it provides two opposing worldviews. A monotheist cannot understand a polytheist because of this. And a true monotheist will never be able to properly comprehend a polytheistic worldview.

However, a polytheist IS capable of understanding the worldview of a monotheist because a polytheist’s faith, in general, consists of multiple worldviews that often contrast with one another. Switching worldviews is a way of life for most polytheists, so it is far, far easier for a polytheist to find ways to explain the complex nature of polytheism in a simple enough way for monotheists to understand.

The easiest way to explain polytheism to a monotheist is to use the polymorphism approach. Hinduism is a prime example of a polytheistic religion that utilizes this type of polytheism. Polymorphism, in and of itself, is the belief of one God with many different names and forms. In essence, it is the belief that a single divine being has multiple aspects. In modern-day polytheism, this type of polytheism is also known as soft polytheism. Polymorphism, is, however, the proper terminology.

Because polymorphism incorporates multiple aspects of a deity into one supreme being, it is the easiest way to explain polytheism to a monotheist. A common ground can be created using this approach, and further spiritual discussions can be held. Some polytheists may argue that a monotheist should work harder to try and understand the more complex forms of polytheism, but that is a failure to understand the different levels of complexity inherent in following a polytheistic faith in comparison to following a monotheistic faith.

In science, we expect our experts to condense the knowledge they have gleaned in multiple subject matters down to a point where laymen can understand it. A good scientist is capable of making even the most complicated theory one that we can all understand, and I would argue that a polytheist must be capable of simplifying the complex in order to facilitate discussion amongst peers.

We need to face the reality that we live in a world that is predominantly monotheist. Rather than railing against how unfair or how prejudiced the world is against polytheism, we need to be the ones taking control of the conversation so that we can explain, tirelessly if need be, why polytheism is as valid a spirituality as monotheism. To do that, we need patience, understanding, and a thick skin.

To make monotheists aware that polytheism is a valid path will take a lot of time and a lot of energy. Most polytheists probably don’t care enough to try and have that conversation. But I would argue that it is one of the most vital conversations to start because polytheistic faiths are gaining in adherents. More and more people are turning to faiths that are polytheistic in nature.

Which is great, but there’s one huge problem – most people turning to polytheistic faiths are doing so after growing up being steeped in a monotheistic culture. Monotheistic thinking does not work with polytheism, yet many new polytheists attempt to bring bits and pieces of their old worldview with them when they turn to polytheism. There are no primers for aspiring polytheists, and there are few polytheists willing to explain what it means to live a life rife with multiplicity.

Part of the reason polytheists lack that willingness to explain is because of how difficult such a task is. It is impossible to sum up all polytheistic faiths because there are vastly different approaches taken in each one. That doesn’t mean, however, that there aren’t a few common threads that run between many polytheistic faiths (but not all). Teasing out those threads is an important part of furthering the conversation amongst other polytheists as well as important for the growth of polytheism as a whole.

So far, what I have managed to piece together as being representative of many polytheistic faiths (again, not all!) is as follows:

  • Belief in/worship of multiple (fallible) Gods: Generally, the Gods aren’t omniscient, omnipotent, or omnipresent. They can make mistakes. Many pantheons consist of immortal Gods, but there are also many pantheons that consist of mortal Gods.
  • Offerings/Sacrifices to the Gods: Generally, offerings are made to the Gods in order to establish the link between the human world and the divine world. This is also the primary way in which the Gods are honored.
  • Ancestor Veneration: Offerings are made to ancestors in order to establish the link between the past generations and the current ones. Generally, polytheists focus more on ancestor veneration than on direct veneration of the Gods. Ancestral spirits, being more directly connected to the practitioner, are better able to help than the Gods.
  • Multiverse Cosmology: The belief in multiple worlds or planes. While generally threefold in nature, there are cosmologies that incorporate a larger number of worlds.
  • Sacral Nature: The belief that nature is sacred and should be treated with respect.
  • Orthopraxy: Literally, “Right Practice.” Polytheistic faiths are focused on practicing faiths through rites and offerings instead of being focused on orthodoxy, or “right thought.” Polytheistic faiths require active participation.

Note: Not all of these threads can be found within all polytheistic faiths, and each polytheist may define each thread in a different way than I have described them here.

Types of Polytheism include:

  • Traditional Polytheism: Also known as “hard polytheism;” the belief in/worship of multiple gods believed to be separate, distinct deities
    • Shinto, Hellenistic Paganism, Asatru/Heathenry, Kemetism, Druidism, etc.
  • Polymorphism: Also known as “soft polytheism;” the belief in/worship of multiple gods believed to be part of a greater singular deity
    • Hinduism, Wicca (some traditions), etc.
  • Henotheism: devotion to a single deity while acknowledging the existence of other gods that are worthy of worship
    • Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, etc.
  • Monolatrism: belief in the existence of multiple deities while asserting that only one god is worthy of worship
    • Atenism, Hinduism, etc.
  • Kathenotheism: belief in many gods, but only one god should be worshipped at a time
    • Smarta Tradition of Hinduism, etc.
  • Duotheism: the belief in two equally powerful gods, often with complementary properties and in contrast opposition
    • Wicca, Dvaita Vedanta Tradition of Hinduism, Druidism, etc.

I found the types here.

 I’m certain I didn’t mention every polytheistic faith or type of polytheism – there is essentially the same number of polytheistic faiths as there are polytheists. A general overview is all we can really hope for, and I hope I’ve done a decent job with what I have put together here.

As for my polytheism, I am a traditional polytheist, and the six threads I feel run through most polytheistic faiths run through mine as well. I may have missed something or included something unnecessarily, so please feel free to respond and expand this conversation. I think this is where we need to start, if we are to ever have meaningful philosophical discussions that incorporate polytheistic worldviews.

 

The Importance of Sacrifice

In general, those of us who follow a Pagan faith (whether that faith be Wicca, Asatru, Religio Romana, Kemetism, Hellenism, etc) embrace orthopraxy as part of our spirituality. Which means that we participate in making sacrifices to the Gods we honor by offering alcoholic beverages, food, trinkets, and so on.

Yet it has come to my attention in the last couple of years that there are a lot of people who “sort of” follow Pagan paths rather than fully committing. And that’s fine – up until you ask a deity to interfere in your personal affairs and that deity chooses to respond favorably.

Exchange and sacrifice are an inherent understanding of Pagan faiths. When a deity acts for you, it stands to reason that there is a need to respond in kind – to acknowledge the favor the Gods have bestowed upon you.

I can’t speak for the Gods of other pantheons, but the Norse Gods seem to take a failure to offer a token of appreciation as a great insult. Especially Odin, and it’s generally not wise to offend Him, considering He is one of the darker Gods of the Norse pantheon. Interestingly enough, Odin is far more widely honored in modern times than He was in the pre-Christian era.

Anyway, in the first example – a High Priestess swore an oath to Odin. He upheld his end of the oath made, and she failed to come through. Instead of paying her debt, she did everything she could to exorcise His presence. In order to assure the debt was paid, Odin started to “haunt” the woman’s best friend until she came to me for help, wondering why this sinister, faceless man kept appearing to her on the nights she would visit her friend. Eventually, we put the story together. I don’t know if the High Priestess ever paid her debt – I was tasked only with communicating the message, not resolving the issue.

And communicating that message seems to be part and parcel of the oath I swore dedicating myself to Odin. I don’t speak of this often because I tend to assume people understand what I mean when I say I have dedicated myself to Odin, but perhaps I need to specify what I mean. When I say I am dedicated to Odin, I mean I wear the Valknut, the symbol often called the “Knot of the Slain,” and it essentially marks me as one of Odin’s chosen warriors, which means He can call me to the other side without warning.

In any case, the other example I have of a person who failed to properly appease Odin I actually learned of today – again, I was acting as His messenger. I learned that a woman’s husband had – half-jokingly – addressed one of the numerous crows we have in this area as Odin and asked Odin for help in curing his son’s illness (the boy, 3 years old, was in the hospital on a ventilator due to pneumonia, with little prognosis of getting better anytime soon). Two days after the request, the boy was off the ventilator and growing healthier each day. The woman told me that there had been increasing amounts of crows at her house – so many it has become impossible to walk out the door without seeing an entire murder of them. I asked her if she or her husband had offered a token of appreciation, and she said her husband decided to give up smoking pot for a month but wasn’t sure he had actually dedicated that sacrifice to Odin.

Granted, my knee-jerk reaction (which I avoided actually voicing) was that giving up pot for a month didn’t really seem like much of a sacrifice for a life saved. But I don’t know the woman’s husband, don’t know the hardship that giving up pot would cause him (if any), and I think it’s important to consider that each person comes to a sacrifice in a different way. If the deity to whom the sacrifice is being made accepts the offering, then the sacrifice is valid. If, however, the deity doesn’t accept the offering, something else is required. Figuring out whether the offering has or hasn’t been accepted can be difficult, but I would suggest that if you start seeing a murder of crows outside your house after offering something to Odin, then that sacrifice has most likely not been accepted.

I’m not sure if there’s an irony to the reason Odin is rarely present in my life or if it is to be expected because He in essence can call on me whenever He likes (and so rarely sees the need to do so), but every time He does show up, it always seems to be to communicate a message similar to this one.

I feel like there are a lot of Pagans out there, Heathens included (since some Heathens try to separate themselves from that umbrella) who look at the Gods as kind and benevolent figures who would never threaten or harm Their followers. While that’s a pretty ideal, it is one that completely disregards reality. The Gods are complex. They are kind, but They are also cruel. It does no one good to forget that truth.

If you’re looking for a TL:DR version (which I rarely ever offer), then this would be the catchphrase: If you ask the Gods for a favor and They grant it, pay Them back. 

 

 

Hospitality

Generally, when we think of hospitality, we think of the reciprocal relationship between host and guest, which occurs when we open our homes to others.

Of all the Old Ways, hospitality is perhaps the most depreciated and the most undervalued in today’s age of selfish convenience. That is a fact I find sadly ironic, as hospitality is the most sacred virtue to the Gods.

That can be seen heavily throughout the Eddas and Sagas, where a breach of hospitality was considered the worst offense someone could make. The Lokasenna shows the aftermath of a violated hospitality – Loki crashes the party because the Gods didn’t invite Him, and the fact He wasn’t invited was a breach in hospitality.

The truth is, that is a breach in hospitality that most of us have committed at some point in our lives. If you’ve ever purposefully excluded someone from a group outing, despite the fact that person belongs to the group in question, then that is a breach in hospitality.

That raises the question about whether it’s appropriate to invite someone that you know will violate the unwritten laws of hospitality, and my answer is yes. I say this because every person must be given the opportunity to show that they know what the rules of hospitality are. As the host, if that person violates those rules, it then becomes your responsibility to see that person out.

To make this clearer, let me give a more solid example.

I’m the organizer for a local writing group, and when there are events, I always announce them on our facebook page, provide directions to the event if directions are needed, and greet people when they arrive at the event.

Now, if I were to message only certain members of the group rather than announce the meeting to the entire group, I would be violating the rules of hospitality. Someone would find out, and then I would be dealing with the backlash of someone’s resentment because they weren’t invited to an event they had every right to attend.

At the event, if someone starts acting inappropriately towards the other guests, then it is the host’s responsibility to ask that person to leave, and to explain why they are being asked to leave. But the person must first be granted the opportunity to act properly.

In today’s world, it is far more common to simply not invite someone, and that causes a great deal of resentment in the person who wasn’t invited. Because someone who hasn’t been invited always discovers that they weren’t invited, and they are hurt by it because they don’t understand why they weren’t issued an invitation.

If, instead, you offer someone an invitation (even though you are afraid that they will act inappropriately), you stave off that hurt, and if the person then chooses to engage in inappropriate behavior, you can ask that person to leave and explain why they are being asked to leave. While that might still anger them (that risk is always there), at least they will have a reason to cling to. And, hopefully, the next time they are invited to an event, they will remember why they were asked to leave at the previous event, and behave more appropriately.

Now, to turn this towards what it means to be hospitable in someone else’s home, there are different sets of etiquette for the host and the guest. Some of them can be gleaned from the Havamal, but most of them are common sense.

If you invite someone over to your house, then, as the host, you should expect to adhere to the following:

  • Offer food and drink
  • Offer place to sleep (if hosting overnight)
  • Accept any help a guest offers
  • Accept gifts offered by guests (this can be the help offered)
  • Be attentive to guests

If you find yourself at someone else’s house, then, as the guest, you should expect to adhere to the following:

  • Graciously accept food and drink offered to you
  • Offer gratitude for having a place to sleep (if staying overnight)
  • Offer help where it is needed
  • Offer gifts (this can be in the form of help and doesn’t have to be a physical item)
  • Be attentive to the host and respectful of house rules

These all seem like common sense, but a lot of people fail to adhere to them. If you go to someone’s house and you have a strict dietary regimen, it’s important to check with the host first to make sure that the host will not find offense to you bringing your own food. You should never expect the host to adjust their meals to suit your diet as the guest. As a host, you should always be willing to allow guests to bring their own meals if they need to stay on strict diets.

Now, there are people who will argue with this and say that a host should be willing to provide any type of food a guest desires, but that’s a selfish motivation fueled by today’s world of convenience. I don’t go to a Mexican restaurant expecting to be served Japanese food, so I don’t go to other people’s houses expecting their cuisine to meet any special dietary needs. Any dietary needs a guest has is the responsibility of the guest. While a host should always offer food, a host shouldn’t be expected to offer food that they don’t normally keep on hand. That’s just common sense.

I mentioned being attentive for both the host and the guest – that means that entertainment should be agreed upon between both parties. For example, a host shouldn’t play video games without including the guest in the activity, and a guest shouldn’t be playing games on their phone when the host is attempting to have a conversation with them.

While I wanted to touch on those two examples of hospitality – events and homes – I also wanted to discuss larger group settings, like classrooms. A lot of people, especially students, assume that a classroom is a place to goof off and do whatever you want. There is little respect between teacher and students, and respect is the spring hospitality flows from.

In a classroom, especially a college classroom, where the students pay to attend, it amazes me how disrespectful other students can be towards teachers. A lot of students will speak up and tell a teacher he or she is wrong without any discernible reason (except, perhaps, to be disagreeable), and I find that to be crass behavior. If a teacher has asked students to point out flaws in their logic (which they do sometimes, especially in math classes), then it’s okay – the teacher is essentially “the host,” while the students are “the guests.”

If more people viewed classes as events with hosts and guests, then perhaps there would be more respect, but I doubt it. Respect and hospitality seems to be a thing of the past, for the most part, and it’s sad that our world has turned into a culture of selfishness in the name of convenience.

There is a ton of disrespect in the world at large, and most of it started with my generation – the one where smartphones, computers, and technology became the main source of communication. I see it in my peers all the time, and it deeply offends me when it happens to me because I believe that respect should be given in order to be obtained, and when someone fails to offer that respect to me, then I have no reason to offer it back.

At a very basic level, if I go to lunch with a friend, I shouldn’t have to worry about my friend constantly checking his phone. The conversation should be occurring between the two of us, unless we are both in agreement and trying to get in contact with a third person to invite. Or if one of us is dealing with a crisis and makes the other person aware of it – respect is very easy to give, but very few people make the effort.

A lack of respect can also be seen in the way people go about disagreeing with one another. If your first response to someone who has a dissenting view from yours is to call them names or tell them how wrong and stupid they are, then you are violating the rules of hospitality. It is possible to disagree with someone and still treat them with respect. According to the lore, it is even possible to go to war with someone and still treat them with respect.

Respect and hospitality go hand-in-hand, and until we reinstate respect as a mandatory way of life, then hospitality may continue to fall by the wayside. As Heathens, we are called to act with hospitality, as the Gods consider hospitality the most sacred of all the natural laws. Our faith is founded on goodwill between us and the Gods, and that goodwill is found through the sacrifices we offer the Gods – the very act of sacrifice is hospitality in its purest form, and it is vital that we remember that in everything we do.